TORONTO – On back-to-back days, the future was on full display at Rogers Centre, and in a rather favourable twist of fate, the present of said future is turning out to be pretty good, too.
On Wednesday night, top prospect Aaron Sanchez made his highly-anticipated major league debut and exceeded the lofty expectations that had been set for him. The 22-year-old featured a fastball that touched 99 mph and a devastating curveball, working two perfect innings in a tight game against some very tough Boston hitters to help secure a Blue Jays’ victory.
Thursday afternoon, the young man Sanchez refers to as his “brother”, Marcus Stroman, did him one better.
Stroman dominated the Red Sox, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Blue Jays cruised to victory. Not only that, but the young righty went into that seventh inning having not allowed the Red Sox to hit even one ball out of the infield. It was the second straight outing of seven shutout frames for Stroman, who has now gone six straight starts without a loss.
The 23 year-old lowered his ERA as a starter to a sparkling 2.21, which leads all major league rookies who have had at least 10 starts this season – a list that includes some guy named Masahiro Tanaka. Stroman’s WHIP over those 10 starts is an astounding 0.984, opponents hitting a paltry .207 against him.
Now, it’s early. Very early. Stroman and Sanchez are both in the infancies of their major league careers, and not only are there no assurances that there won’t be bumps in the road, there’s pretty much a guarantee that there will be bumps in the road. But right now, both of them are pitching exceedingly well – to the point that Stroman has asserted himself as the Blue Jays’ best starting pitcher at the moment and Sanchez is likely to share duties with Dustin McGowan as the right-handed set-up man for Casey Janssen.
With the Blue Jays back in a playoff spot after six weeks of struggles (they’re tied with the Yankees for the second wild-card spot in the American League), it’s fair to see the contributions of Stroman and Sanchez as those unexpected surprises that, you know, playoff teams get on their way to the post-season.
Think all the way back to the 1985 Blue Jays and the out-of-nowhere seasons of two Toms, Filer in the rotation and Henke in the bullpen. In 1991 it was Juan Guzman and Mike Timlin, in ’93, Pat Hentgen. More recently, the St. Louis Cardinals went to the World Series just last year thanks in large part to Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal, two rookies who came with high hopes and who exceeded expectations.
Sanchez’ debut Wednesday and Stroman’s masterpiece Thursday showed that both young Blue Jays have the ability, the repertoire and the stuff to be difference-makers as the Jays try to leapfrog Baltimore and move back into the division lead. They’re not going to maintain their current level of performance – in Stroman’s case, few ever have and in Sanchez’, nobody has – but if they continue to pitch well, with the returns of Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind from the disabled list right around the corner, things are looking brighter for the Blue Jays than they have in a while.